Audio Review: Classic Radio Sci-Fi Collection Box Set

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A QUINTET of seminal science fiction classics are brought vividly to life in gripping BBC Radio dramatisations, collected here in one box set for the first time.

One of the world’s first sci-fi novels was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a gothic masterpiece about one man’s bid to play God. This dark and brooding piece of fiction has inspired numerous adaptations, and here Michael Maloney stars as the ambitious young scientist Victor Frankenstein, desperately seeking the source of life itself in his bid for ultimate knowledge, but falling foul of his own hubris when he makes the Creature (John Wood) from stolen body parts and infuses it with electrical current. What follows is a tale of regret and revenge, as both Creature and creator strive to escape the horrors inflicted upon them, resulting in a final tragic confrontation in the desolate North Pole…

Admirably capturing the sense of pervading dread which features in Shelley’s original work, with none of the Hollywood trappings later afforded the Frankenstein story, this is effectively a two-piece between Maloney and Wood which reveals the follies of messing with forces beyond one’s comprehension, a by-now common theme in many science fiction works.

For the first time, HG Wells’ classic science fiction story The Time Machine is adapted for UK radio, in a full-cast dramatisation which springs from the idea that Wells’ bestseller was not fantasy but actually fact. In 1943, the author (William Gaunt) records a talk for the Home Service in which he questions mankind’s future, which prompts him to discuss the truth behind his novel with American journalist Martha after the broadcast.


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Wells reveals that he was actually present at the Richmond dinner party 50 years earlier, when the Time Traveller (Robert Glenister) returned from his first fateful journey into the future, and reveals the full story of this expedition into the nightmarish dystopia populated by the childlike Eloi and the hideous Morlocks, and what really happened to him afterwards…

This innovative and inspirational framing narrative for the novel avoids it becoming a simple reading of the book and instead develops into a narrative which stands on its own merits, while also remaining faithful to the themes of the novel and Wells’ own musings about mankind.

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Apart from a certain great detective, Arthur Conan Doyle was also known for his more fantastical works, many featuring controversial scientist Professor George Challenger (here played by Francis De Wolff). In The Lost World, Edwardian journalist Edward Malone (Kevin McHugh) volunteers to accompany Challenger on an expedition to a remote Amazonian plateau still populated by prehistoric life. But none of the party involved in this epic journey could have predicted how events would unfold once they arrived in this time-lost land.

A Boy’s Own adventure-style yarn, admirably capturing the thrills and excitement of Doyle’s original work, with some stirling performances from the cast.

In Solaris, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Ron Cook) arrives at a scientific research station hovering above the surface of the eponymous planet, only to find it deserted apart from two scientists driven insane by some mysterious horror. It transpires that their aggressive investigations have disturbed a powerful force from deep within the oceans of Solaris, which confronts them with their most powerful and painful thoughts and memories in return. For Kelvin, this is his long-dead wife Rheya (Joanne Froggett), whose suicide consumed him with guilt, but for the other scientists their torment seems even worse…

Perhaps best known for the two Russian film versions, and 2003 Steven Soderbergh adaptation starring George Clooney, the radio play moves away from the themes of man’s meddling with alien forces and towards a more psychological drama. This does not detract from the power of the actual story, but does shift the balance for anyone expecting a simple audio version of the movies. That said, Solaris remains a science fiction magnum opus, and is worthy of one’s time in any format.

Perhaps best-known for introducing the word “robot” into the English language, there is much more to Karel Capek’s play R.U.R than just its contribution to our lexicon.

The creation of artificial beings, devoid of emotions and souls, by engineer Rossum and his nephew creates a whole new workforce. But when Harry Domain (Simon Ward), general manager of Rossum’s Universal Robots, agrees to a request by Helena Glory (Tessa Peake-Jones) to instil consciousness into some of the robots, the consequences prove catastrophic…

A study on the dangers of technology in the wrong hands, as evidenced during the First World War which ended a couple of years before Capek wrote his play, this dystopian classic has had obvious influences over subsequent sci-fi authors over the years, and remains as powerful today as it was on its original release back in the 1920s.

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